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February 25, 2014


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Orin Kerr

On the bright side, I suspect this is one area in which legal writing instructors generally agree with the scam blogs: legal writing instructors should be paid the same as podium professors. One would equalize "up" and the other would equalize "down," but at least they have an agreement in principle. :)

Lisa McElroy

Orin, except that those who teach legal writing are professors.


We've read many in the law school professoriate commenting on this site and others. In many of these comments, which are not uniform but perhaps proportionately representative, law profs appear to claim, either explicitly or implicitly, to be superior not only to legal research and writing “instructors,” but also superior to practitioners and bar associations (who, as the hirers of law school graduates and advocates for the “consumers” of the product of US law schools, are said to know “nothing” about the reforms necessary in legal academia), adjunct professors, clinical professors, professors “from practice,” etc. Indeed, the list of persons working in legal academia considered by some law profs to be inferior seems to be quite long, but perhaps in part this is simply a function of an obsession with rankings and prestige.
Beyond plausibility, as has also been claimed on this site (and more to the point of this post) “the most prestigious and important faculty at the leading medical schools are almost exclusively researchers and teachers, not practitioners.” This comment reflected what appears to be a widespread belief in legal academia. Because law profs research and write (and sometimes teach, but ostensibly only as a chore to enable the more important aspects of their work), the practice of law strikes many as a distasteful enterprise. (A negative impression which no doubt has been accentuated by the typically brief stint of low level experience in BigLaw.) It seems that, as reflected in various comments here on the FL, many law profs believe that practitioners don’t “research and write” about subjects as deeply and intelligently as law profs do. In fact, it may be difficult for the average law prof to imagine that a lawyer ever thinks very hard about anything.
Hence, the need to demean legal research and writing “instructors,” who would seem to be fulfilling a law prof’s notions of “prestige and importance.” As Dorf points out: “[t]he … study shows that most legal writing professors have far more practice experience than the average podium professor.” There you are.
There’s also a social aspect to all this: a very important pecking order in the law school environment. Status seems to be a major preoccupation of law profs, with an obsessive and seemingly endless focus on ranking themselves and others, and associating pretenses of importance to these often nonsensical and conflicting efforts. Titles are garnered (along with increased compensation) and jealously guarded. Ever more precise labels are devised to distinguish the “lessers” from the tenured faculty, e.g., “Visiting Acting Asst. Clinical Adjunct Instructor from Practice Who Is Definitely Not One of Us Despite the Same Credentials But Expected to Do Everything We Do and Just As Well With Fewer Resources, Less Compensation and Zero Respect From Us. ”
Put that on your business card!

Orin Kerr

Lisa, my apologies. I know that those who teach legal writing are Professors at my school, but I don't know the label used at every school. No offense intended.

Jeff Harrison

What a great example of the misuse of economics. The rationale at some level seems to be that writing professors make (not earn) less that the professors teaching other subjects and, thus, are like nurses are to doctors. So let's think about this. Does this mean English professors, many of whom make less that all law professors, are also like nurses are to doctors? Would this also apply to high school teachers. All of these people teach different subjects (I would add that I reject the doctor/nurse idea in the first place) and supply and demand vary with respect to who is willing and able to teach these subjects. To then place them in some kind of pecking order based on market rates doesn't make much sense to me. In fact, if you want to turn it around, the people who hire students from my school are most interested in writing skills. I think this makes the rest of us nurses to the writing professor doctors.

Lisa McElroy

Orin, No offense taken, and thanks for clarifying. Jeff, what a thoughtful post. Thank you. Anon, thanks for the support. Respect goes both ways. I know that I have enormous respect for my peers who teach only podium classes. They are hard-working, committed to students, and caring human beings. At most schools, however, there are still inroads to be made in helping podium professors see legal writing professors in the same way.


"At most schools, however, there are still inroads to be made in helping podium professors see legal writing professors in the same way."

One reason is that the legal writing professor jobs are usually not as difficult to obtain as a podium professor job. Lisa, in your own post you note that 28% of the legal writing professors have a JD from a top-20 school. I am not sure what the percentage is for podium professors but I would guess it is north of 80%, if not 90% (not to mention the additional degrees, fellowships, VAPs, publications, etc.) Now, perhaps the legal writing jobs would be more competitive if they came with more respect and better pay, but currently most legal writing professors simply do not have the resume of most podium professors. And yes, I know there are exceptions, but on the average, I think I am right.


JP: YOu may be looking thru the lens of status seeking. If you compare the podium profs at the T14 to "legal writing professors" you might find evidence to support your point. But, you admit you are guessing about the "averages" and the common experience, and, one suspects you aren't directly involved in the hiring of "legal writing professors" either. Your conclusion appears to be vague and overstated: "currently most legal writing professors simply do not have the resume of most podium professors."
The 28% stat stuck out, to be sure. However, your speculation based on it appears to go too far. Please cite some evidence to support such a sweeping generalization.

Paul Horwitz

I should say, not so much in support of JP's comment as to offer an evidentiary basis for it, that I have seen comments on various blogs that, implicitly or explicitly, back up JP's point.


I think the credential issue is a diversion.

Whether one is better than the other, it is clear that the jobs are typically different. Usually, legal writing professors are paid primarily to teach, if full time profs typically a heavier load than doctrinal profs. As such, they are expected to be an expert in legal writing pedagogy. Some schools also expect them to publish about legal writing pedagogy. Yet they typically are not paid nor expected to be national experts in a substantive area of law, or have any publishing requirements (against, except perhaps for about teaching legal writing). In places they are expected to write in & be an expert in a substantive area of law, they are no different than conventional profs and should be treated as such.

This is fundamentally different than the "conventional" law professor, and it is unsurprising that the market reflects this.


The reason that an “I heard” argument, so often encountered here in the FL, is problematic is that this form of argument calls into question two separate issues apt to become confused and conflated.
The first issue is whether the person using this form of argument is honestly reporting what that person heard (or "saw in comments on various blogs."). No one would seriously doubt the good faith of the person making this sort of claim, or that person's word for what was seen or heard.
The second issue is the accuracy of the underlying claim. Here, the claim is "currently most legal writing professors simply do not have the resume of most podium professors."
It is in this latter regard one can seriously and legitimately question the quality of the “evidence” just presented to support this sweeping generalization (indeed, the comment initially concedes a lack of evidence).
A rudimentary knowledge of proof reveals the inherent untrustworthiness of a report that “I have seen comments from some unknown speakers somewhere on the internet who wrote some unreported words that, implicitly or explicitly, in my opinion back up JP's claim that currently most legal writing professors simply do not have the resume of most podium professors."
Fairly unconvincing. The value of this report is sort of negligible.
Perhaps instead, these undescribed comments on "various blogs," and the claim by JP under discussion, simply reflect the bias to which the main post was directed. A willingness to believe JP's claim, based basically on nothing much more than speculation and without more than this, may be expected if one presupposes a great number of persons in the law academy support a broader sense of their own superiority than may, in fact, be justified in this respect.
As for how "legal writing professors" should be "treated" the attitude in play, again, is sort of glaring. If any point has been established on these threads, it is that the "market" does not function in the law academy in traditionally conceived ways, and arguments based on this premise are suspect and almost always faulty.

Lisa McElroy

So, to those who criticize legal education: Are law review articles worthwhile endeavors? Or not? Because I thought I'd seen a lot of argument in the comments on this blog and others that they are worthless and that profs shouldn't be paid for them. Yet, Altidore says that it's OK to pay legal writing profs less (and we're talking A LOT less at most schools - less than half, in most cases) because most don't write traditional law review articles. Which is it?

I also want to make explicit and abundantly clear that I teach at a school where I am expected to write and publish in traditional law reviews, I do so, and I am paid fairly/equally. None of my critique is about Drexel. But it does apply to the working conditions of 94% of legal writing professors.

Lisa McElroy

I should clarify. Reading back over the comments on some other Faculty Lounge posts, Altidore seems to be a podium professor who is satisfied with the hierarchy and differential pay. Some other commenters seem to be disappointed former and current law students- they are the ones to whom I address my question. I should have been clearer about the difference.

I think this is an important conversation to have. I also think it's likely to make real progress when people (especially current law professors) are brave enough and willing to write under their own names rather than pseudonyms.


Good point.
The skills involved in legal research and writing - the very same skills involved, with insight and creativity, in legal "scholarship" - are devalued by many law profs when practiced and taught by legal writing profs. The reason for this seeming anomaly seems to be that these skills are associated with the practice of law.
Legal research and writing, when performed by attorneys, is disregarded by many law profs as merely the activity of legal "practice."
But, when these activities are performed by a law prof, they become "important and prestigious." Indeed, these skills are oft said to be the core attribute of the law prof's superiority.
Of course, there is some truth about the association of legal research and writing, as taught by legal research and writing profs, and the legal community at large. The skills taught by legal research and writing profs are far more highly valued by the legal community at large - the community for which the institutions of legal education primarily exist - than the current version of legal scholarship principally propounded by the law academy.
But this well-documented fact appears to mean little or nothing to many in the law academy, if the comments here in the FL are deemed to be representative. Many law profs continue, in a sort of unseemly self-regard, to proclaim their legal research and writing as always and forever superior to all other iterations of the very same skills.


I have been supportive of your posts.
Whether or not I may support your point, please don't try to hunt down posters, research and pour through these threads to determine identities, or speculate about positions. This conduct is sort of obsessive and unnecessary.
Yes, you misread a comment above. THat was clear. You didn't need to pour through the threads to explain anything.
Anonymous comments are allowed on this blog for VERY good reasons. Comments can be and are addressed here in the FL on the substance of the comments.


Oh, come on. The duties and qualifications of an LARW instructor/professor did not arise spontaneously through some alchemical market process. They were established at individual law schools by the existing, conventional faculties. It seems reasonable to suspect that, at most schools, the precise combination of duties and qualifications was set specifically to ensure a ready supply of cheap(-er) labor. Having created and defined the market for LARW instructors/professors, and carefully crafted it to ensure a ready supply, it's pretty disingenuous to say as altidore does: "This is fundamentally different than the 'conventional' law professor, and it is unsurprising that the market reflects this."

It's also unreasonable to point to a credentials gap (real or perceived). You've differentially defined the markets for LARW vs. conventional faculty to produce exactly that kind of gap. Pay LARW people more, make them fully respected members of the faculty, integrate them into the institution, and lower their teaching loads. Then, see if the credentials of those applying for these jobs don't improve.

Other than the basic fact that someone will need to teach research and writing, you could directly eliminate any and every difference between the two groups of faculty, if you wanted to. If you're unwilling or uninterested in doing so, it must come down to an opinion about the differing value of what LARW vs. conventional professors teach. Fine, make that argument, but address it directly. Don't hide behind specious economic arguments based on market differences that you (conventional law professors collectively) yourselves created.


Here you go: roughly 70% of new podium hires had T-10 JDs. 78% had fellowships and just under 20% had PHDs.

For further support, look to almost any law school website.

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